Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdoğan is currently visiting the United States of America. Yesterday he officially opened a large mosque and Islamic cultural centre in Lanham, Maryland, a small town just up the road from Washington DC.
President Obama apparently declined an invitation to be present at the opening ceremony – but it is to his credit, and to Americans as a people, that permission was given to build this complex. Of course the President of the United States has to walk a careful line, and needless to say there are plenty of US citizens only to ready to defame Mr Obama as a Muslim, and supporter of terrorists. Being photographed in front of a large mosque complex not far from the White House would undoubtedly have generated a good deal of negative publicity.
So the US President is well aware that not everything published in news media, at home and abroad, is 100% true. As Mr Erdoğan was departing for his American visit, there were some in Turkey saying that Barack Obama would refuse to meet him. That was nonsense, of course, as events subsequently proved. I watched a news programme on a Turkish TV channel the other day showing Mr Erdoğan speaking at the Brookings Institution in the US capital, and answering questions from representatives of the international news media.
Predictably, questions focussed on claims that Turkey’s president is a dictator, that he imprisons journalists who dare to criticise him, and that he is ordering his military to massacre Kurdish women and children in the south east of the country. President Erdoğan handled all of the questions knowledgeably and with dignity, even though he must be totally fed up with foreign media constantly harping on the same issues. He might have said that, were he actually a dictator, he probably wouldn’t have fronted up to such a meeting where he had everything to lose, and not much to gain.
My newspaper today reports that Mr Obama told his own news media that he had spoken to President Erdoğan about his concerns over press freedom in Turkey. For his part, Mr Erdoğan asserted that the issue did not arise during their fifty-minute meeting. Interesting! Turkey’s president went on to say that there have been headlines in Turkish newspapers calling him a ‘murderer’ and a ‘thief’. He doubted if such ‘journalism’ would be acceptable in Western countries, and if Mr Obama had raised the matter in their discussion, he would certainly have made that point.
The following opinion piece ran in a Turkish newspaper, Sabah, last week, under the by-line of Mahmut Övür. I doubt if you will see it in any English language news source, so I’m translating it for your edification:
“In the last fifteen years Turkey has been struggling to overcome a century of resistance to change, and at the same time, has faced attacks from the forces of the globalised world.
To clarify, Turkey has been facing constant condemnation in relation to freedom of the press and freedom of speech. With Deep State, PKK, DAESH and other terror organisations attacking from within, and newspapers, TV networks, and social media like Twitter and Facebook from abroad, Turkey has been engaged in an ongoing battle. From time to time it has had to put limits on these freedoms.
While all this has been going on, there has been strong criticism in particular from the EU and the USA via the press and politicians, mounting a campaign to the effect that ‘There is no freedom of the press or freedom of speech in Turkey’.
Under the guise of promoting freedom, they are implementing a deliberate policy of vilifying Turkey. In other words, since 2010 they have put Turkey in a state of siege.
Now one ugly incident has brought this plan out into the open. The other day President Erdoğan went to the USA to attend a NATO Security Summit.
This meeting was very important for a number of reasons and it happened at a very critical time, while Turkey has been the object of criticism over matters related to freedom of the press and freedom of speech, and its management of internal conflicts.
In the forefront of the critics were former US ambassadors to Turkey. What happened all of a sudden? A new campaign was started on Twitter, symbol of freedom in the modern world: #WeLoveErdogan. The #WeLoveErdogan hashtag attracted enormous interest in a short time and raced to first place on the TT list with 300,000 tweets.
So, what did Twitter do, this symbol of global democracy? This Twitter, which had stirred up so much controversy because it had been closed down for a short time, couldn’t stand this hashtag for more than two hours. They closed it down and, in a move worse than censorship, replaced it with a disgraceful tweet #TurkishdictatorintheUSA which received a mere 900 hits.
What can we say about this? We know that some of our own ‘intellectuals’ will remain silent, but I wonder what the freedom-fighter politicians in the EU who are so ready to criticize Turkey, will have to say?
Is freedom to be defined only by their narrow limits? We know that the West is quick to forget democracy and freedom when it suits them. So they could ignore the military coup in Egypt. And they could ignore the massacre of 400,000 people in Syria.
We saw the same thing when terrorism hit them at home. After the bombings in Paris and Brussels they announced a state of emergency, and they poured soldiers into the streets – but if we do a tenth of that, we are called a dictatorship.
Of course the EU represents a system of values, but those values should not apply just to some people, and some countries – they should apply to all humanity . . . Our world cannot accept this double standard.
Turkey knows itself. We have some serious problems, particularly in our legal system. We still do not have a modern, democratic constitution. But this does not mean that democracy in Turkey is as bad as those other countries are trying to make out. We have made great progress and we are continuing to move forward.”
Well, there are always critics who will accuse this man of paranoia, and of embracing unfounded conspiracy theories. On the other hand, what are we to make of recent rumour-mongering in neo-con US media that there is a possibility of a military coup in Turkey to overthrow its democratically-elected government? Turkey’s military high-command felt obligated to issue a statement denying the existence of such a possibility. In fact, one of the major achievements of Turkey’s AK Party government has been distancing the military from direct involvement in the nation’s politics, and returning the armed forces to the proper role they play in all democratic countries – subservient to the elected government, not above it.
There is a saying in Turkish, ‘Hem suçlu, hem güçlü’, which can be rendered in English as ‘The person who is most guilty is often the most noisily indignant in attacking others.’ I have been following the intricate proceedings of an FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of her private email server to carry out official business when she was Secretary of State. In updating the issue, a Time article made references to earlier times when Mrs Clinton and her President-at-the-time husband were found to have engaged in, to say the least, extremely dubious behaviour. There was the ‘Whitewater’ case, where there was evidence of White House involvement in deliberate blocking of investigators. Later, there were President Clinton’s official pardons, issued on his last day oin office, to wealthy supporters previously convicted of tax evasion.
That Brookings Institution where Mr Erdoğan was interrogated by the foreign press is known as one of the United States’ foremost think tanks. According to Wikipedia, among its major sources of funding are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, and the State of Qatar. It has been influential in guiding government policy on financial deregulation and ‘tax reform’, and has published books including one entitled America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. Maybe you’ll tell me they are working towards a better world for all of us – but I’m not so sure.
A recent comment on another of my posts suggested that Europe has never got over its humiliation at Gallipoli in 1915. I would go further, and suggest that the West has never got over being expelled from Anatolia and Istanbul by Turkish nationalists in 1923. That they still harbour historical resentment related to the centuries they lived in fear of being overrun by the Ottoman Empire (whom they preferred to call ‘Turks’). That there is a residual memory of the fear and hatred incited by the 11th century Pope, Urban II, who, for his own interests and those of his church, launched nearly four centuries of military aggression (a.k.a. the Crusades) against the Muslim world.
Terrorism is no new phenomenon. I applaud the Obama administration for allowing the building of that Islamic cultural centre. In the final analysis, bridge-building and education will do more to ensure world peace than stirring up hatred and fear, and seeking revenge for past wrongs.